Friday, November 28

The Friday Random Ten+5 gets all starry-eyed.

This one's gonna be kind of a quickie, 'cause my plane leaves for L.A. in less than an hour and with the terror level being raised to Code Fuchsia or whatever it is with all that crap going on in India, there's no telling what they're going to make us do before they let us on that plane. "I don't have more than three ounces of liquid on me, I swear!" "Oh, sure, maybe not in a bottle . . . but you can either empty your bladder right now, or you can stay home."

Christopher Walken
I'll bet a lot of people, upon unexpectedly seeing Christopher Walken out in public, demand that he say the "MORE COWBELL" line. I wouldn't do that. I might, however, get him to call my mom on my cell phone and offer her some fine champagna.

Megan Fox
Because I feel like I need more information about that whole dating-a-Russian-stripper thing, and she seems pretty cool, so I'm sure she wouldn't be the least bit creeped out by a complete stranger coming up and asking her about that.

Matt Damon
OK, you're kind of going to have to willfully suspend some disbelief here, but a couple people have told me that I look like Matt Damon with facial hair. One of them is my mom, and the other is a co-worker of mine whose name I will keep secret to protect the innocent and/or visually impaired. Anyway, I think it would be awesome to see Matt Damon at a Starbucks or something in Hollywood and be like, "Matt Damon! People say I look like you!" just to watch his eyes get big and all the color drain out of his face. Fun!

Tina Fey

Tom Selleck
Also obvs.

And now the Ten:

1. Richard Cheese, "Me So Horny"
2. Radiohead, "How to Disappear Completely"
3. U2, "Got to Get Together"
4. The Police, "Every Breath You Take"
5. The Roots, "Act Too . . . The Love of My Life"
6. U2, "All I Want Is You"
7. 3rd Bass, "Episode #3"
8. Outkast, "The Rooster"
9. Sting, "Everybody Laughed But You"
10. Gnarls Barkley, "Go-Go Gadget Gospel"

Your turn, folks -- leave your Random Tens and/or celebrity-sighting wish lists in the comments. And I'll let you know if I run into any of those people this weekend.

Thursday, November 27

I can't, I can't, I can't stand losing (to) you: the Georgia Tech preview.

I, Georgia Tech, challenge you to an honor du-el!

Hometown: Pelargir, Gondor. Uh, I mean Atlanta, Georgia.

Last season: Got off to a great start, beating Notre Dame 33-3 in South Bend, but then everyone realized that, oh yeah, Notre Dame sucks. Struggled to a 4-4 ACC record before falling to Georgia for a seventh straight year, which was deemed enough to earn coach Chan Gailey his walking papers; defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta coached the Jackets in their bowl game, a 40-28 Roady's Humanitarian Bowl loss to Fresno State. They finished the season 7-6 overall and unranked.

The season thus far: Not bad, actually. Under new coach Paul Johnson's diabolical triple-option offensive scheme, Tech shot out to a 6-1 start and a #21 ranking before losing to Virginia at home; they're now 8-3 (5-3 ACC) and ranked #18 in the AP poll, #23 in the coaches'. And if Virginia beats Virginia Tech this weekend, Georgia Tech represents the Coastal Division in the ACC title match, no matter what happens in the UGA-GT game.

Hate index, 1 being homemade apple pie, 10 being squash and most other gourd-related foodstuffs: Fifty. You should know why if you've been reading this blog for any significant length of time, but if you don't, here's a good place to start, followed by this, and the first couple paragraphs of this probably bear mentioning as well.

Associated hottie: Trick question! We all know there are no girls at Tech. But here's Jennifer Copeland, a Florida model who's at least willing to pretend she's a Tech fan.

I've gotta think some money changed hands to make this happen; I just don't know how much.

Celebrity preview: You can talk smack about the Dawgs if you must, but you better not say shit about my mom, who dissects the Jackets in her own unique way here.

What excites me: Here's an SAT question for you:

What does this series of numbers represent?

95 110 105 104 85 102 45 99 90

a) the weight, in pounds, of each of the last nine Vogue cover models

b) the nine state and U.S. highways that pass through Henderson, Nevada

c) the ages of the nine men currently serving in Dick Cheney's "shadow cabinet"

d) the rankings (out of 120) of each of Georgia Tech's nine D-IA opponents in total offense

If you answered "d," give yourself a cookie. Such are the plum benefits of playing in this year's ACC: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and in the land of sucktastic offenses, any team that can play even a modicum of defense comes out looking like the '75 Steelers. In contrast to these stiffs, though, Georgia's offense comes in at #24 in the nation, averaging exactly 429 yards per game. That includes a 19th-ranked passing game cranking out 268.5 yards per contest, which should be particularly meaningful this weekend, because who's the best QB the Jackets have had to account for this season? Cullen Harper? Christian Ponder? Whoever it is, they probably had neither the arm nor the receiving corps that Matt Stafford will have when he takes the field this weekend.

I know Matt Stafford. I've watched Matt Stafford. Matt Stafford is a Facebook friend of mine (request pending). You, ACC quarterbacks, are no Matt Stafford.

Georgia has also had two weeks to prepare for the Jackets' triple-option attack, and Mark Richt has done an incredible job of making the most of any extra time he's given to get ready for games. The Dawgs are 24-4 in the Richt era when they've had more than a week to prepare, 11-2 (0.846) if you take out season openers and bowl games; they're 8-3-2 against the spread coming off a bye week. (Oddly enough, their only two regular-season losses coming off a bye were to Auburn, in '01 and '05.) Earlier this season, the Dawgs used their first bye to get up off the mat after their loss to Alabama and throttle the Volunteers; obviously, that wasn't a perfect game by any stretch, but Knowshon went over 100 yards and Stafford set a new career high in passing yards, and our defense straight-up crushed the Vol offense, so clearly we did something right in our off week. And just as that bye came at a perfect time, when we needed to regroup after a humiliating loss, so does this one, after three straight weeks of sloppy and distracted performances by our D. There's reason to be optimistic that this last bye was similarly used to regain a little focus.

And that's only one of the intangibles that break solidly in Georgia's favor -- not that anyone who's monitored this rivalry over the past seven years needs to be reminded. The game is in Athens, where the Jackets have won only one out of every three times in this series. And for all the swagger Tech has supposedly found under Paul Johnson -- who, to his credit, is about as diametrically opposite to Chan Gailey as a coach can get -- they're still the ones who have lost seven in a row, and thus the ones upon whom there is the most pressure to perform on Saturday. None of the guys on this year's Tech squad have anything particularly positive to take from their past experiences with the Dawgs; QB Josh Nesbitt's one pass attempt against Georgia last year was picked off, while Jonathan Dwyer, leading all of Tech's rushers with 1,184 yards on 170 carries, had exactly two carries for two yards versus UGA a year ago.

They may have broken through the iron-clad Chan Gailey seven-win ceiling, but the Jackets have yet to prove they can make any meaningful dents in Georgia's domination of this series. Paul Westerdawg puts it pretty succinctly: If "wanting it" was all that mattered, Tech would be the ones with the seven-year winning streak. But they're not. So . . . so what?

In any number of variations, the "triple option" has been known to result in tears.

What worries me: Here's what: "Wanting it more" may not win games, but "crushing people with a mind-boggling rushing attack" clearly will, at least a few. With Paul Johnson's triple-option system running more or less at full speed, the Techies rank fourth in the nation (and first in the BCS conferences) with 271 rushing yards per game at a 5.5-yard-per-carry clip. And they're doing it against solid defenses, too: They rolled up 162 rushing yards on Boston College (ranked #7 nationwide against the run), 278 on Virginia Tech (#19), and 288 on Florida State (#21).

Does Georgia's run defense qualify as "solid"? Well, up until a few weeks ago it did, but after allowing a total of 427 rushing yards through their first seven games (at a piddling 2.4-ypc average), the Dawgs have allowed 723 rushing yards in their last four (with the average carry jumping up to 4.2 yards). This is a baaaad trend to be livin' under when you're about to face a triple-option attack. Moreover, the concept of "assignment" football that defenses typically shift to when they're about to face an option attack requires a tremendous amount of discipline, and that's something we just haven't been exhibiting lately. We're not tackling well at all, and even when we do, we're committing dumb-ass face-mask or late-hit penalties that enable other teams to keep drives alive. (Maybe that's one benefit of our guys having to defend the triple-option: You're much less likely to incur a roughing-the-passer penalty when they only pass it 12 times per game.)

Has Georgia learned enough discipline and got enough fire back in their bellies over the past two weeks to play a smarter, more disciplined brand of football against the Jackets? I guess we'll see. Senator Blutarsky sounds optimistic that the meaning of this rivalry, and the importance of an eighth straight win, are not lost on this year's players. And Mark Richt, to his credit, has always seemed well aware that he's going to take Tech's very best shot and has found ways to prepare for that. But we won't know for sure until the two teams take the field at noon Saturday.

Ain't a damn thing changed, boy, protect ya neck.

Player who needs to step up: WLB Rennie Curran. Not that Rennie hasn't been stepping it up for the past three months, mind you; even during the doldrumiest of Georgia's defensive doldrums, #35 has consistently been out there chopping wood (and heads, Wu-Tang style). But the Dawg defense needs a leader to keep their bellies aflame and their heads in the game, and it's most likely gonna fall to Curran to be that guy. First order of business: Teaching the rest of the starters how to tackle, perhaps? At the very least, somebody needs to tell Reshad Jones that this isn't flag football, and a mere chest bump, no matter how forcefully it's administered, does not automatically cause an opposing ball carrier to be declared "down."

What I think will happen: A few days before the Georgia-Alabama game back in September, my co-worker Stanley, who graduated from Georgia but was raised deep in the heart of Bama country, predicted that "either Georgia's going to win a very close game, or Bama's just going to blow them out." At the time, I scoffed; needless to say, any lingering scoffing had ceased by halftime.

Exhibit (A) as to what happens when one takes a tough opponent for granted.

Why do I bring this up now? Well, I think the outlook for the 101st official edition of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate is kind of similar. No, I don't mean that Georgia is destined for another 31-0 first-half jackhammering, but I do think we'll know very early on what kind of attitude each team is bringing to this game. If the Dawgs decide to continue filling the role of Tech's personal tormentor -- the Jerry to their Tom, if you will, the Bugs Bunny to their Elmer Fudd -- while the Jackets end up continuing their long-standing tradition of soiling themselves at the mere sight of a super-G, then the Dawgs probably roll up another two-touchdown win aesthetically similar to last year's. If, on the other hand, the Jackets truly are a team transformed under Paul Johnson, while the Dawgs phone it in on defense in a manner similar to what they did against Kentucky or Florida, then it'll be Georgia on the bad end of an early 14-0 score (or worse) that they never quite manage to make up.

I believe the more likely outcome, though, lies somewhere in between those two: If UGA and Tech both bring their respective A games, then this is a hard-fought contest that goes all the way down to the final minutes. Let's not beat around the bush here: Tech is averaging 271 rushing yards per game this season, and my guess is they get at least that many on Saturday; if you put a gun to my head, I'd guess they go over the 300-yard barrier for the fifth time this season. However, it's instructive to remember that North Carolina gave up 326 yards on the ground to Tech two weeks ago and still managed to pound them 28-7. They accomplished this by doing two things: forcing Josh Nesbitt into a dismal passing day (10-22, 97 yards, one pick) and winning the turnover battle (+3).

Hope you've got some of this game tape in your Netflix queue, Willie.

The latter isn't something Georgia has been particularly adept at this season -- I was surprised to find that we're actually -1 on the year, which is only good for a tie for 67th in the nation. Part of the reason for that, though, is that we haven't taken away or coughed up the ball all that many times this season. And if we take care of the ball this weekend the way we have in our best moments, then we've got a chance to win the turnover battle by forcing Tech into some mistakes. The Jackets are currently only tied for 78th in the country in turnovers lost, mainly owing to 18 lost fumbles (tied for third most in D-IA); if we play disciplined and snatch the ball away a couple times, then we'll be in great shape, even if Tech does manage to bust a few big runs.

But will we play disciplined? I'll be honest: I got no fuckin' idea. The bye week, as I've said, should be a plus for us; I don't doubt that guys like Richt and Martinez recognize the need for us to get re-focused on the fundamentals of tackling and sound assignment football. For any of that to actually translate into a winning defensive performance, though, a leader's going to have to emerge on that side of the ball to get the players to buy into it. Rennie Curran could be that guy, Ellerbe could be, but . . . well, I guess we won't know for sure until Tech takes the ball for the first time. I'll be honest, I don't feel nearly as good about that as I'd like to.

Fortunately, one of our most glaring weaknesses on defense -- our utter lack of a pass rush -- will be mitigated to some extent by the fact that Josh Nesbitt has only attempted more than 20 passes once this season (against North Carolina, also the only time he had completions in double digits). And again, as good as Tech's defense has frequently looked this season, they have yet to face a balanced offensive attack anything like what Georgia brings to the table. So what does it all mean? Well, I'm girding my loins for something that looks a lot like the Kentucky game: Another solid performance from the Georgia offense, a lot of rushing yards given up to the opposing defense, and both teams managing to match each other punch for punch (and score for score, more or less) until some combination of critical Tech turnover/heroic Georgia drive in the final minutes of the game ices it for the Dawgs.

And you know what that means: CLEAR!

How confident am I about that? Eh . . . no comment. Either way, Dawg Nation, it's time to strap the fuck in and keep the nitro tabs at the ready. But I've got faith that if we play smart, cover the Nesbitt/Dwyer combo and produce on offense the way we should be able to, we've got a shot at Eight In A Row, Bitches. And that's all the early Christmas gift I could possibly ask for.

If you're trash-talking: "Seven in a row, bitches" should be all that you need. But Paul Westerdawg points out that that's only the beginning. The Techies haven't beaten us without Ralph Friedgen on their coaching staff since 1984 -- guess he's kind of like their David Cutcliffe -- and haven't beaten us without at last 10 ineligible players on their roster since their shared national title in 1990.

Fine, you say. Anyone can rattle off a bunch of boring statistics. But a picture really is worth a thousand words, and it's pictures that neatly sum up everything about the difference between Georgia and Georgia Tech. Here's the first result that pops up when you do a Google image search for "university of georgia student":

And here's the first result for "georgia tech student":

I could say more, but any explanation I could offer here would only be belaboring the point.

Why you should root for Georgia even if you don't care about this game: Georgia is 59-36-5 in this rivalry. Georgia Tech hasn't had a winning decade in the series since the 1950s, when Bobby Dodd was their head coach; since their record-setting eight-year win streak under Dodd, they're 14-37 against the Dawgs. So it's only fair that Georgia, being as dominant as they've been in this rivalry, should hold at least a tie for the longest series winning streak, which they would earn with an eighth straight win this Saturday. Plus if Tech wins this Saturday for the first time this century, they're going to act like they just won the national title and start telling everyone they "own" us now, and I can't even begin to tell you how annoying that would be.

I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment building wearing nothing but a Georgia flag if: Georgia wins, period. I don't care whether we cover the spread or not, whether we win 13-10 or 52-48; if we take an eighth straight over the nerds, that'll be worth some public semi-nudity on my part, no matter how cold it is outside. But a blowout win would send a message to Paul Johnson similar to the one we sent to Chan Gailey in his first game against the Dawgs, so I'm uppin' the ante here: If Georgia somehow beats Georgia Tech by three TDs or more, I'll do the flag run without the flag. Yep, you heard me. And such a thing will all but assuredly destroy any chance I had of getting a job with the Obama administration -- yes, I filled out my app at last week -- but what can I say? Obama's on the bumper of my car, but the red and black is in my blood, son. And don't any of y'all ever forget it.

A memo from the desk of Arnold T. Pants, Esq.:
Happy Thanksgiving, schmucks -- eat up!

It's Thanksgiving, and Arnold T. Pants is servin' it up for the first time in quite a while. The main entree, the big preview of the Georgia-Georgia Tech game, will be along later on today for y'all to carve up at your leisure, but here's some stuff for you to nosh on until then:

· Need some bad gambling advice? Err . . . I mean, need some gambling advice, bad? My weekly picks column is up over at Dr. Saturday's joint, and not only do you get another round of stab-in-the-dark picks, you get a brief look into a family once again gripped by the Cavalier-Hokie rivalry. Virginia-Virginia Tech: It's just like Texas-Oklahoma, only without the offensive firepower, "SportsCenter" highlight-reel-making hard hits, or national-title implications! Not that any of it matters, because win or lose, my dad will still brag that UVA was founded by Thomas Jefferson, and you can't take that away from him.

Dammit, I was talking about a wall of separation between "church" and "state," not "Virginia's offense" and "the end zone."

· I didn't think anything could be tastier than Thanksgiving dinner, but these comments, collected by Andrew Sullivan, from right-wing tools (and a few out-of-touch Democrats) about how Obama couldn't possibly win the presidency, are pretty delicious, if only in that ironic, Montgomery Burns "deliiiicious" way. Eat up, but not too fast, or you'll get a tummyache.

· Last political item and then I'll quit: All my peeps in Georgia, while you're out there tomorrow tearing your hair out with frustration amongst the Black Friday crowds at the malls, how 'bout you swing by your local polling place and give a very simple gift to the entire state of Georgia by voting for Jim Martin in the U.S. Senate runoff against Saxby Chambliss. Chambliss, you'll recall, is the guy who ran ads against incumbent Max Cleland in 2002 juxtaposing Cleland's face with that of Osama bin Laden and saying that Cleland, who left three limbs behind in Vietnam, was soft on national security; since then, he's done absolutely nothing of note in Washington except attempting to shield Imperial Sugar from any culpability in a February explosion at a Savannah plant that killed 14 people. Now Chambliss basically has nothing to run on this time around except for "Elect me or the Democrats will be in control over everything ARP ARP SOCIALISM ARRGGGHHH," which you can basically interpret as "I'll stand in the way of every last thing Obama tries to do to turn the economy around." Please, Georgia, for all our sakes, send this guy packing,

Oh, and Georgia fans, if you needed any further evidence that Chambliss is not to be trusted, consider: Both Martin and Chambliss attended UGA for undergrad and went on to law school, but Jim Martin got his law degree (actually, law degrees, plural) from Georgia; Chambliss shunned his alma mater to attend law school at Tennessee. And that is unacceptable.

· OK, one more political item, sort of. Last night I was watching Olbermann and Maddow on MSNBC, and both of them were giving George W. Bush the business for screwing around with the annual "Thanksgiving turkey pardon" while Obama was arranging his economic task force and looking, you know, presidential and shit. And yeah, the contrast between the two was kind of embarrassing, given that the only meaningful work was being done by the guy who isn't even president yet, but . . . you know what? Whatever else you can say about him, George W. Bush is certainly in his element with the goofy, meaningless ceremonial aspects of being president. I don't trust him to direct foreign policy and I sure as hell don't want him anywhere near a budget, but when he was pardoning the turkeys, all I could think of was, Awwww, little guy's having fun out there. His approval rating is in the tank and he's probably going to go out as one of the least popular events in American history, but for right now, at least, he's got a smile on his face.

And that made me think, maybe it wouldn't be so bad to keep Dubya (or a guy like him) around as, like, an executive-branch jester or something like that, to handle the turkey pardons and White House Easter-egg hunts while Obama tends to the serious country-saving matters. I mean, as low as Flavor Flav has sunk with all his reality-show appearances and whatnot, people forget that he really was an integral part of Public Enemy back in the day, because people might not have been able to handle all the heavy science Chuck D was dropping if Flav hadn't been there to lighten things up with the occasional dose of comic relief. That's how I see this president/president-elect relationship playing out over the next couple months: You've got Barack Obama in the Chuck D role, kicking it about the serious issues and making sure the American people know what's up about what's going on in their society, and Dubya can be the one jumping around in the background, pardoning turkeys and dancing around with visiting music/dance groups with the clock hanging around his neck. Seriously, what's the harm? Wouldn't that be a nice way to be, you know, bipartisan and stuff?

· By the way: I know I mentioned this in an earlier Dr. Saturday column -- and I know y'all read it, RIGHT?? -- that I'm headed off to Los Angeles on Friday to watch Jimmy Clausen get dismem . . . er, I mean to see the USC-Notre Dame game. I'll be in L.A. until Tuesday, so we've got some time to kill; a good chunk of it will be spent at Legoland down in Carlsbad, another chunk will no doubt be spent stalking Tom Selleck, but we'll surely have some free time beyond those two activities over the course of the weekend. So if any of y'all live in L.A. or have spent any substantial amount of time there, and know of something that we just HAFTA see/do, holla in the comments thread.

· And, finally, some side dishes in the form of YouTube videos that have made me laugh over the past couple weeks.

Flight of the Conchords' loving tribute to David Bowie:

The "pre-taped call-in show" sketch from Mr. Show:

And while not technically a YouTube, this "Daily Show" segment from the height of the Tom DeLay scandal a couple years ago is one of the funniest things I've seen on TV. Ever.

Happy Thanksgiving, schmucks. Eat too much, but otherwise, be safe.

Monday, November 24

Poll dancing, week 13: Bye weeks, beatdowns, and barbecue.

Last Saturday was a pretty quiet one, football-wise, in this particular part of the world; when the second-biggest news story of the weekend was Florida unloading 70 points on the Citadel in a glorified scrimmage, you know it was a pretty weak slate, overall, for the SEC. Georgia, obviously, didn't play, which after the previous few weeks was a weird kind of blessing -- instead of screaming at the TV and mentally counting up all the rushing yards we were handing to the other team, I got to sit back, revel in some other teams' misfortunes, and perhaps most importantly, try Archibald's in Tuscaloosa for the first time. Todd Blackledge was exactly right: The barbecue is awesome, and my face and fingers afterward were about as messy as this BlogPoll ballot's probably going to be.

Games watched: Ball State-Central Michigan, enough of Georgia Tech-Miami to be very worried, most of Ohio State-Michigan, Ole Miss-LSU.

Waiting room: Maryland, Pittsburgh, Miami, Brigham Young, South Carolina.

Dropped out: Maryland (17), Brigham Young (18), LSU (19), Pittsburgh (21), Connecticut (22), Miami (23).

· Florida and Alabama take the top two spots, natch, but below that we've got three incredibly good Big 12 South teams all jockeying for position, and they're all 1-1 against the other two. How to sort this out? Well, Roll Bama Roll has a particularly interesting way of looking at the situation, as does Dr. Saturday -- basically, they're both advising the "Texas beat OU head-to-head, therefore Texas should be highest, case closed" crowd to pump their brakes. I think so too, and here's my rationale, as simple as I can make it, by analyzing each team's victory in this little round robin:

Oct. 11: #5 Texas beat #1 Oklahoma 45-35 on a neutral field.

Nov. 1: #7 Texas Tech beat #1 Texas 39-33 at home.

Nov. 22: #5 Oklahoma beat #2 Texas Tech 65-21 at home.

Of those three, Oklahoma's win was not only arguably the biggest accomplishment -- it was certainly the biggest beatdown -- but also the most recent. As such, I can rank the Sooners #3 -- above Texas -- with a clear conscience.

· On the other hand, dropping TTU only four spots for sustaining a 44-point ass-whipping didn't quite seem like enough, but I can't put them below Southern Cal at this point, and I certainly can't put them below Oklahoma State, whom they whacked by 36 a couple weeks ago. Maybe Utah deserves to go above them?

· All the other movement in the top echelon is pretty much minor statistical noise until you get to Georgia Tech, charging up out of the "others receiving votes" level back up to #16 after eviscerating a Miami squad that supposedly had a defense. (Don't worry, 'Canes; my team supposedly had one too. It happens.) Is this just pre-emptive projected sandbaggery by a fan of the team GT plays this weekend? Probably, but I'll tell you what: You want the Jackets to drop down to the mediocrity you feel they deserve, then root for the Dawgs to kick their asses on Saturday.

· Cincinnati also moves up big for taking another huge step toward the Big East title -- all that stands in front of them at this point is a home date against 3-8 Syracuse -- as does Florida State, who destroyed a ranked Maryland team on the road but now, ironically, has to root for that same Maryland team to beat Boston College in Chestnut Hill this weekend for the 'Noles to go back to the ACC title game. (Georgia Tech, incidentally, has some funky rooting interests this weekend as well -- they'll be watching Virginia and Virginia Tech, both of whom beat the Jackets, in the hopes that the Wahoos can notch the upset and shove the Jackets into the conference championship bout.)

· After Georgia Tech and FSU, the other newcomers to the ballot this week are: Ole Miss, who handled a flatlining LSU team in Baton Rouge and likely earned a Cotton Bowl invite for their troubles; Northwestern, who's had the stealthiest run to nine wins of perhaps any team in the country; West Virginia, who took care of Louisville on the road and, improbably, still has a shot at squeezing 10 wins out of Bill Stewart's rookie season; and . . .

· . . . Ball State, as promised, checking in at #23 after knocking off Central Michigan in the snow on Wednesday night and preserving their thus-far perfect season. This set up a de facto MAC West title game in Muncie tomorrow night, which could actually be pretty interesting.

· Euthanized: Maryland, who will probably be right back in the top 25 next week after beating a Boston College team that'll be missing its starting QB; BYU, the latest team to have the cleat-prints of BCS-bound Utah applied to their faces; LSU, who's suffering life without Ryan Perrilloux every bit as painfully as we thought they would, after all; Pittsburgh, who will no longer be taunting us with the prospect of seeing Dave Wannstedt coaching in a BCS bowl; UConn, who found a way to lose to resolutely mediocre South Florida; and aforementioned Miami, who shall hereby be referred to as a cautionary tale for any Georgia fans who think Eight In A Row, Bitch is a done deal.

Everybody up to speed? OK, here's the SEC Power Poll ballot:

1. Florida -- Florida may have dropped 49 on my Bulldogs and 70 on the Citadel, but at least Cam Newton never got anywhere near my laptop.

2. Alabama -- A lot of people in the vicinity of Tuscaloosa are talking like the Iron Bowl is signed, sealed, and delivered for the Tide. As bad as Auburn has looked this season, I'd advise against that.

3. Georgia -- Our defense finally regained its early-season form, as the Dawgs allowed 0 rushing yards this past Saturday. Woohoo!

4. Ole Miss -- It's really incredible how far Houston Nutt has brought this team in less than a full season -- as in "four straight losing seasons" to "right back to the Cotton Bowl."

5. South Carolina -- Yet another "better watch out this weekend" team. They've improved a great deal over the course of the season, but as the second half against LSU and both halves against Florida showed us, they're not good enough yet to take Clemson completely for granted.

6. LSU -- Last year, a heartbreaking loss to eventual national champion LSU started Alabama off on their season-ending four-game losing streak. This year it looks like karma may be returning the favor: Ever since losing in OT to the undefeated Tide, the Tigers have looked awful.

7. Tennessee -- Probably don't deserve to be this high, but these are power rankings, and the Vols just beat a bowl-eligible team on the road -- pretty impressive for a team that looked like they'd completely given up a couple weeks ago.

8. Vanderbilt -- What was that all about? You figured, great, we're bowl-eligible, we can just switch on the cruise control between now and the Liberty Bowl?

9. Kentucky -- All of a sudden I'm not convinced they're going to beat Tennessee anymore.

10. Auburn -- All right, guys, just how interesting are you prepared to make the Iron Bowl this year?

11. Mississippi State -- About every third game they pop their heads up above the ground and come up with some offense. Still don't know how Woody McCorvey has managed to maintain his employment, though.

12. Arkansas -- Back to the drawing board after losing to the Bizarro Bulldogs . . . and yet would it be that much of a shocker for them to beat LSU at home this Friday?

Friday, November 21

The Friday Random Ten+5 gives thanks. Again.

Last year around this time, I used this regular feature to give thanks for some of the big things that have made my life so full and worth living. This is the last Random Ten +5 before Turkey Day, so now's as good a time as any to give thanks again, but since I've given thanks for some of the big things, maybe this time around it's time to give a tip of the cap to some of the little ones, the things that aren't right there in front of your face all the time. So here are Five Little Things I'm Thankful For This Holiday Season:

Being able to say "President Barack Obama" in a couple months
Say it once or twice, just to see how easily it rolls off your tongue: "President Barack Obama." Then observe the pants-wetting paranoia this elicits in those tough-talking right-wing radio hosts. That's what I like to call a "win-win situation." Listening to guys like Limbaugh and Hannity is kind of excruciating when their guys are in power, but when they're not, it's actually kind of delicious.

The Zaxby's that opened up on Palisades Boulevard
It used to be that I had to drive all the way down to Greystone or Valleydale Road to stuff my stupid face with Zaxby's golden-fried goodness, and that'd usually take 15-20 minutes even if the traffic was flowing right along. Now, though, there's one right on the other side of Red Mountain, and it's right on the way to Publix, Costco, and a whole bunch of other places that regularly wind up on my errands itinerary. A vanishingly slender thread of self-control is the only thing that's kept me from ballooning up to 250 pounds in the past three months.

Blue Diamond Bold Wasabi & Soy Sauce roasted almonds
Ditto. These things are awesome. But these aren't nuts for amateurs -- no, these are men's nuts. OK, wait a minute, that didn't come out right --

Lucy Pinder
Just because. If she didn't exist, we'd have to invent her -- and leave it to the Brits, who discovered way before we did that real boobs, real curves, and a saucy accent beat silicone-packed, bottle-blond stick figures every time. (4[b]: women who aren't afraid to wear glasses. Between Lucy and Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, I may be developing a less-than-healthy fixation on this.)

OK, I know it was lame as fuck when Time magazine pulled this trick for their "Man of the Year" issue last year. But I really am incredibly appreciative of everyone who's been reading, commenting on, and linking to this blog over the past three and a half years. Hey Jenny Slater went over a million hits a couple weeks ago, and it continues to amaze me that that many of y'all are actually interested in reading this stuff; it's even more amazing when I check up on the referral tracker and find that some far more talented blogger out there has deemed something I wrote worthwhile enough to link to. Thanks for spending a little part of your day here, and I'll do my best to not suck too much over the next three and a half years.

And now the Ten:

1. Avenue Q cast, "There's a Fine, Fine Line"
2. Groove Armada, "Purple Haze"
3. The English Beat, "Can't Get Used to Losing You"
4. Johnny Cash, "Don't Take Your Guns to Town"
5. Pet Shop Boys, "How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?" (Classical reprise)
6. MC Solaar, "Dégâts Collatéraux"
7. Frank Sinatra, "Night and Day"
8. David Cross, "Flying on a Mexican Plane"
9. Pet Shop Boys, "Indefinite Leave to Remain"
10. Underworld, "Play Pig" (Pig & Dan remix 1)

Your turn, those readers for whom I'm so thankful -- put your own Random Tens and things you're thankful fo' in the comments.

Thursday, November 20

" . . . You know, man has only been around for a few blinks of an eye. So if the infection wipes us all out, that is a return to normality."

Over the past week or so they've been repaving pretty much every street within a couple blocks of Five Points South. They started letting traffic back through the neighborhood this evening, but here's a picture I took on my walk home from work a few days ago when everything was still blocked off.

Creepy, innit? It'd be spookier without all the lights on, but still, it's rare to see Five Points so devoid of any evidence of human life. If I really did wake up one morning and found that I was the last person on Earth, though, there are any number of bars around here I could break into and just drink myself into oblivion. So there's that.

Wednesday, November 19

BlogPoll roundtable #4: The home stretch.

Hokie blog College Game Balls has the honors of hosting the latest installment of the BlogPoll roundtable, and it's a pretty interesting mix of questions. Thankfully, "Who was the most overrated team in the preseason top 10" was not among them. Let us begin:

1. By now everyone has heard that if there is a three-way tie in the Big 12 South, the highest-ranked team in the BCS will play in the Big 12 Championship Game. That means the humans (66% of the BCS Poll) will determine the Big 12 South representative. Let’s assume Oklahoma sinks the pirate ship at home next week. Try to sway the pollsters by arguing which team you think should face off against the Big 12 North.

As you'll recall, Stoops didn't enjoy this handshake much last year.

If Oklahoma wins big, as in by double digits, and does the same to Oklahoma State the following week, then send the Sooners to the Big 12 title match. They’d be the first team all season to have outscored the diabolical Mike Leach offensive machine, and a big win over the Cowboys would be more impressive than Texas’s four-point victory earlier in the season, as well as a sign that OU is playing at a higher level than anyone in the conference at that point. And if there’s a three-way tie atop the division, in which each team has both beaten someone and lost to someone in that little love triangle, you might as well send the team that’s playing the best football at that moment.

However, if Oklahoma barely squeaks by the Red Raiders and/or loses to the Cowboys in Stillwater, then I think you have to send Texas. You can’t ding the Longhorns too hard for losing to TTU on literally the next-to-last play of the game, and you also have to give them at least a little credit for holding the Raiders to their third-lowest point total of the season. And, of course, you also have to take into account the fact that the ‘Horns beat Oklahoma by 10 earlier this year, a feat which (I think) would be more impressive than just barely beating Texas Tech, particularly if Oklahoma gives up a bajillion points in the process like I think they’re going to.

Does any of that make sense? Hopefully, if OU does knock off Texas Tech, they’ll at least go and lose to Oklahoma State and save us all a lot of trouble.

2. ESPN is aggressively bidding on the rights to the BCS when Fox’s contract expires after the 2009 season. My half baked theory is if they do win the rights they will push for a +1 system. Lucrative television deals have landed ESPN in bed with each of the BCS conferences. The revenue a playoff would generate could be a huge motivator for the four letter to be the common denominator and unifier among the conferences that finally helps them all to see the light of why a playoff would be good for college football. Help expand upon or debunk this theory.

Get out of here and take your extraneous marching-band shots with you.

Ehh, as much as I’d like to see some kind of plus-one implemented, I don’t see it coming that much closer to fruition just because ESPN has muscled the BCS rights back from Fox. There’s still going to be the same old inertia there due to the old “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy — which, in this case, might be more accurately depicted as an “If it ain’t broke and it’s making us an un-f%$#ing-believable amount of money, don’t fix it” philosophy. As long as millions of college football fans are still watching — and they will be — there’s less incentive for ESPN to push for any major changes, particularly as long as the Jim Delaney/Rose Bowl Axis of Douche is determined to stand in the way. And the one thing that might’ve prompted Delaney to get off his stubbornly traditionalist high horse this year — Penn State going 12-0 but getting left out of the national title game — isn’t going to happen.

3. Rivalry week is around the corner. How do you think your team will fare? Feel free to talk a little or a lot of trash.

I’d talk a lot more trash if a win over Georgia Tech was as bankable as it’s been the last seven years, but there’s no guarantee that we’re going to make it eight in a row. Overall, Tech’s talent level is significantly lower than Georgia’s, but then, we thought the same thing about Auburn and Kentucky. And the new triple-option offensive scheme that Paul Johnson implemented on the Flats this year just happens to match up with what has been our biggest weakness over the past few games, i.e. a rapidly collapsing run defense. Like Paul Westerdawg, I’m hopeful that even in the event of a big day from the GT running attack, Georgia’s balanced and supremely talented offense will be able to stay a step ahead of them. But I still think we’re going to need at least one big defensive stand, or a bunch of screw-ups (read: turnovers) by the Tech offense, to put them away.

God, what a miserable answer. I can’t believe I’m at the point where I’m sweating Tech. That’s like staying in your room with the door locked because you’re afraid your 10-year-old little brother is going to come in and beat you up.

Ooooh, is that a . . . pass rush? I remember those! They were awesome!

4. And now for a little fun … Assemble your dream announcing team. Pick a play-by-play announcer, color commentator, sideline reporter and for the hell of it celebrity guest that drops on by.

Awesome question. Well, my play-by-play guy would obviously be Ron Franklin, but I’m sure at least half the people answering this question are gonna say that, so if he’s unavailable, I’ll take Uncle Verne Lundquist. Both of those guys are absolute masters of their craft whose voices pretty much defined Saturday afternoons/evenings for me during my formative years as a rabid Georgia fan.

As for the color guy? Call me crazy, but I really like Kirk Herbstreit. He knows his shit, and he’s enthusiastic without being overbearing; with a lot of guys in that particular chair, you can kind of see/hear the wheels turning in their head as if they’re thinking, “Ohh, this is big, how can I be sufficiently bombastic that people will forever associate my voice with this game?”, but Herbstreit doesn’t do that. He’s still got a little bit of that Big Ten homerism to work out, but he’s gotten better at that. Runner-up: Ron Jaworski, who’s finally getting his due props for being an absolute master of the game, analysis-wise, with his gig on Monday Night Football. Don’t know how well he’d carry over from the NFL to the college game, but I wouldn’t mind finding out.

Sideline reporter: Sorry, I’m gonna have to go with another likely common answer, and that’s Erin Andrews. She gets the nod by being a) hot and b) smart enough at her job to deserve it even if she wasn’t hot. My left-field answer, though, is Holly Anderson, who would bring the halftime interview to a whole new level of entertaining.

"Where are we this weekend? Oklahoma-Texas Tech? Fine, let me gas up the Ferrari and I'll be there in thirty minutes."

And finally, my special celebrity guest: The Selleck. Has to be. He went to USC on a basketball scholarship, but the Trojans won the national title his senior year, so I’d be surprised if he was completely oblivious to football. The one caveat, though, would that he’d have to appear in the booth wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a Detroit Tigers cap. This would not be negotiable.

Olive Garden Confidential: Fourth in a series.

Here is "Flashpoint," the fourth in our series of alternate-reality Olive Garden ads. And also the final, unless someone can tell me where to find an embeddable version of the ad where the dad insists he "didn't know" it was Never-Ending Pasta Bowl Day at the O.G. I've got an idea in mind for that one but can't quite remember how the dialogue goes. Anyhoo . . .

WAITRESS: Can I take your order?

MAN: Yeah, I'll have the stuffed chicken marsala.

WOMAN: Oh, me too.

MAN: You know what, then I'm gonna get the stuffed chicken limone.

WOMAN: Ooh, that sounds good too.

MAN: Really? Seriously? We're doing this again?

WOMAN: What?

MAN: You know, the thing where I can make up my mind and you can't, so you just do whatever I'm doing, and then you sit there and complain about how much you hate it?

WOMAN: I do not do that.

MAN: Oh, you don't, huh? So when you couldn't decide what you wanted to do when our cruise stopped in Cozumel, and you ended up coming deep-sea fishing with me, you loved that? 'Cause all I remember is you bitching for six solid hours about how all you wanted was to go back to our cabin and read a book.

WOMAN: Mark, I can't believe you're doing this in public.

MAN: OK. Fine. You know what? Why don't I get the limone, you get the marsala, and we'll switch.


ANNOUNCER: Try two great dishes from Olive Garden! Stuffed chicken marsala, bursting with Italian cheeses and sun-dried tomatoes and creamy marsala sauce. And new stuffed chicken limone in a light lemon-butter sauce -- both with endless salad and bread sticks.

MAN (as their plates are set down): Switch?

WOMAN: Oh, you think you can throw me a few crumbs off your chicken limone and that'll make it all better? My mother was so right about you.

ANNOUNCER: Olive Garden -- when you're here, you're family!

Monday, November 17

Poll dancing, week 12: One of those "just glad it's over" weekends.

Between the drag-ass Georgia-Auburn game and the fact that Florida's 56-6 anal vivisection of South Carolina was the only matchup of ranked teams Saturday, last weekend kind of sucked. Except for "Quantum of Solace" and a couple of home-cooked meals, of course.

Games watched: Second half of Miami-Virginia Tech, Georgia-Auburn, Alabama-Mississippi State.

Waiting room: Georgia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss.

Dropped out: South Carolina (17), North Carolina (18), Florida State (22), Virginia Tech (24), Air Force (25).

· Another shuffle in the top three sends a couple teams down a notch apiece -- despite the fact that neither of them actually lost last weekend -- but Tony Barnhart is right: At the rate they're playing right now, Florida is capable of beating anyone in the country, and badly. Here was a South Carolina team about which everyone and their brother (including me) was like, "Plus-21? Oh, that's way too big a spread," but the Gators had that covered by the end of the first quarter. Woe be unto any Bama fans who think that any of Urban Meyer's guys are going to be intimidated by a #1 ranking.

· Other than that, the top 15 is pretty quiet, save for Boise State and Georgia switching places (sadly, I had to do something to the Dawgs after barely escaping Auburn with their lives) and Oregon State moving up after dispensing with California. Seriously, how awesome would it be for someone other than the Trojans to win the Pac-10 this year? (The mere fact I said that, of course, means the Beavers are going to lose 54-7 to Oregon this weekend.)

· Below that, it's the usual muddle: Maryland rockets up way more slots than they probably deserve, but the fact remains that they're 7-3 and have been knocking off ranked teams like it was their job; Boston College gets back in after whacking Florida State; and LSU drops five spots after spotting Troy a 31-3 lead on Saturday, a feat so dubious that even Troy's Sun Belt opponents have been hard-pressed to match it. (Of the SBC teams they've played, only hapless North Texas ever trailed the Trojans by 28 points or more.)

· Newcomers: Maryland, BC, Connecticut (who apparently forced Syracuse to finally fire Greg Robinson already), Da U, and Oregon. I've gotten a few comments asking why 10-0 Ball State isn't in here, and that mainly has to do with the not-exactly-earth-shattering revelation that the MAC sucks, but I'll cut you a deal: If the Cardinals beat Central Michigan on Wednesday night, whether it's by one point or 30, they'll be in my next ballot. Promise.

And the SEC Power Poll ballot:

1. Florida -- In my neck of the woods, some Alabama fans -- certainly not a majority of them, but they're there -- are already looking ahead to the national title game. Oh, what fools these mortals be.

2. Alabama -- They're not really taking anyone out behind the woodshed and just beating the crap out of them from the opening gun these days, but then again, that was a complaint frequently lodged against the '92 team, too.

3. Georgia -- Sloppy play and ill-timed defensive breakdowns are turning what should be blowouts into close games. Georgia Tech is good enough to make them pay for this in a couple weeks if they don't get it straightened out.

4. LSU -- The fact that they still rank this high after nearly being humiliated at home by Troy tells you just how much of a step the SEC as a whole has lost compared to last year.

5. Vanderbilt -- Bowl-eligible for the first time in more than a quarter-century -- honestly, I was starting to think they didn't have it in 'em -- and they've still got a chance to pad their bowl résumé against Tennessee and Wake Forest.

6. Ole Miss -- Total offensive domination, and yeah, it was against ULM, but a sixth win is a sixth win.

7. South Carolina -- From very early on against Florida, they looked desperate in a way that you don't usually see Steve Spurrier teams look, and I'm not just talking about the dumbass throwback attempt on the kickoff return.

8. Kentucky -- Wonder if Rich Brooks is already trying to come up with ways to drop 50 on Tennessee in his final regular-season game.

9. Arkansas -- I kind of figured their loss to South Carolina did 'em in as far as bowl eligibility, but would you really be that surprised to see them knock off LSU at this point?

10. Auburn -- Played with a ton of heart against Georgia but managed to match the Bulldogs stupid mistake for stupid mistake. If I were Alabama, though, I'd be wary of a team that's playing for both bowl eligibility and, potentially, their coach's job.

11. Mississippi State -- Couldn't depend on John Parker Wilson to hand the game to them this time around. Hey, it happens to the best of us.

12. Tennessee -- If they can't get up off the mat any better than they did against Wyoming, then a 3-9 record and the title of "Worst Team in Tennessee History" are all that await them. Does anyone in Knoxville even care at this point?

Sunday, November 16

Sometimes the solution is worse than the problem.

The Dawgs run out of the tunnel before the start of the Auburn game, which was probably the most satisfying thing they did all day.

Given that I've been to the Georgia-Auburn game 12 years in a row -- in any season, it's the game I always find a way to go to even if I can't make any of the others -- I wanted to be excited about this win. I wanted to get my picture taken with the scoreboard in the background, wanted to laugh as the players did their victory dance on the sideline, wanted to smile as Mark Richt gave the thumbs-up on his way into the tunnel just a few feet from where I was sitting in the end zone. There was a part of me, too, that probably would've liked to gently rib my numerous Auburn friends about losing three in a row to the Dawgs for the first time since Vince Dooley's big run in the early '80s.

But this just didn't seem like the game for that. I couldn't laugh, smile, or even cheer that loud; instead, I just kind of stood there, sucking on chapped fingers that had literally started splitting open from a combination of cold wind and frantic clapping, as my heart rate returned to normal. It was a win, and I'm happy about that, but beyond the fact that we get to mark another W on our schedule there wasn't a lot to get worked up about. In fact, it almost seemed -- and this isn't really the right word, but I'll use it until somebody comes up with a better one -- insincere for our players to be celebrating a win that they had tried so hard for four quarters to hand to the other team. If anything, the more fitting celebration would've been a thank-you ceremony for the Tigers, who unfailingly tried to hand it right back to us every time.

A nation collectively raises its eyes heavenward and says, "Yippee, let's go home."

Against Auburn, our team showed itself to be a textbook example of that time-worn football cliché: Our players have million-dollar arms -- and legs, and hands, and muscles -- but all too often they demonstrate ten-cent heads. What's worse, some of them seem to think that these mistakes, particularly the penalties (Georgia committed nine for 95 yards against Auburn), are not a bug but a feature of this team. Blutarsky lays out the evidence here:

“We’re being aggressive, but a little overaggressive,” linebacker Darryl Gamble said. “We just need to be smarter about that.”

“Guys are just not using their head,” defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. “They want to be too aggressive. When guys are running out of bounds or when the whistle is blown, they still want to hit.”

“That’s always going to happen when you’ve got guys playing aggressive and just scratching and clawing with their backs against the wall,” Curran said. “You might get a hand up or get a personal foul when you’re trying to intimidate, and that’s what we were trying to do.”

Look, I know that anger over this kind of thing is only useful up to a point. I know that higher levels of penalties aren't automatically a killer for a team hoping to play at an elite level -- LSU was one of the most penalized teams in the country last year, but it didn't keep them from taking home a crystal football. But it pains me to see so many of our guys acting like this is an either-or proposition: Either we play aggressive and risk the kind of mistakes that result from over-aggressiveness, or we play disciplined but don't display the passion needed to win. Come again? Sure, the list of the top 20 most penalized teams in the country is heavily populated with elite squads -- USC, Boise State, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma, to name just a few -- but there are quite a few superb teams in the top 20 least penalized list, too: Penn State, Missouri, Ball State, and Alabama, the last two of which are undefeated. And Florida, who spent the first month of the season jockeying with Georgia for the title of most penalized team in the country, has worked their way down to #27 -- an effort just happens to coincide with the most dominant stretch of play I've seen from any team in the SEC in years.

What's more, as Blutarsky points out, this aggression-induced sloppiness isn't actually coming to any good purpose:

. . . And the thing is, if the point to all this macho aggressiveness was to intimidate the other team into wilting, it didn’t work. Auburn’s offense got more productive as the game wore on. Of the 303 yards that the Tigers gained on the day, they accumulated 195 yards of them on their last three series.

A tackle would be the proper response here, but, you know, whatever.

As someone who got to witness every last yard of that live and in person, and has the cardiac arrhythmia and foreshortened life span to prove it, let me chime in with a "hells yes" on that one. Where was that aggression when Ramarcus Brown was half-assedly defending a Kodi Burns pass on Auburn's final drive as if he didn't actually expect Montez Billings to catch it, only to watch Billings actually catch it and give Auburn a short distance to convert on third down? Where was that aggression when Asher Allen got burned by Rodgeriqus Smith later on that same drive, leaving him with no strategy for defending a potential game-winning touchdown pass other than shoving Smith and earning the world's most obvious pass-interference flag? Where, oh where, was that aggression on what was possibly the single most humiliating defensive play of the Mark Richt era, the one early in the fourth quarter where Mario Fannin samba-danced 35 yards through a sea of flailing arms on his way to a go-ahead touchdown? Actual aggression on that play might've gotten one of our defenders to actually run into Fannin at some point -- but our guys used the very non-aggressive technique of arm-tackling on Fannin, and instead, depressingly, saved all the running-into for each other.

All due respect to our defensive players, but that ain't aggression, it's simply bein' stupid, and that's as true now as it was when we were earning criticism for doing similarly stupid stuff in the first month of the season. And it doesn't give me any satisfaction to say this, but it's looking like the 2008 Bulldogs are the first team of the Mark Richt era to actually get worse as the season has worn on. The really frustrating thing is, we know this team is better than that. I mean, if I'd told you that Matt Stafford would throw 0 picks and get sacked 0 times against Auburn, Knowshon would have the 14th hundred-yard game of his still-young career, and the defense would hold the mobile Kodi Burns to only 28 yards on 14 carries, what would you think the final score would be? Beat 'em by three touchdowns, right? Instead, arguably the most talented Georgia team of the last three years played arguably the worst Auburn team of the same period and, rather than dishing out a beatdown similar to what they administered to the Tigers in far less favorable circumstances in '06 and '07, had to sweat out a last-minute four-point victory for the second week in a row. Stupid mistakes are nearly allowing our excellent statistical efforts to get squandered, and that tells you that the defining battle cry of Richt's early success at Georgia -- "Finish the drill" -- is going unheeded. The drill ain't getting finished, and when it is, it's only just. (Whatever happened to that slogan, anyway? Surely VanGorder didn't take it with him when he left in '04, did he?)

Remember the "Finish the Drill" year? That worked out pretty good for us, dinnit?

Maybe it's the weight of inflated expectations -- certainly frustration is bound to rise when you come into a season picked to win the national title, yet somehow you've got two losses and aren't blowing anybody out the way you wanted to -- but at best, that's only an explanation, it's not an excuse. And at some point, you'd think it's the kind of attitude that should get coached out of them. Last year, as Richt and his staff fashioned a team of stone-cold assassins out of a bunch that had gotten destroyed by Tennessee and survived Vanderbilt by the skin of their teeth, I would've thought they were the kind of guys who could handle that job. This season, sadly, it looks like they might not have been up to the challenge.

I realize it's horribly ungrateful to be saying such things about a coaching staff that's averaging 10 wins per season. I also realize there are plenty of programs around the country who have no reason whatsoever to be sympathetic to complaints like these -- I mean, it's not like we're Michigan, who just clinched the worst season in program history by notching an eighth loss this year, or Tennessee, who still has two chances left to do the exact same thing. I dare say the team we just played on Saturday would trade places with our program in a heartbeat. And maybe, you know, we're just having a season like the one Auburn had in 2003: Ranked number one in the preseason, which turned out to be dramatically over-optimistic, and it was the following year they ripped everyone to shreds on their way to an undefeated record. If our problems get worked out in that spectacular a fashion, then I doubt you'll hear me mention 2008 ever again.

But that's just it: These problems don't just "get worked out." Players and coaches have to work them out, and there'd better be a lot of that happening over the next two weeks, or make no mistake, we won't be notching our tenth win of the season -- or our eighth straight win against Georgia Tech -- on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Are those two goals important enough to matter in a season where our national-title dreams have been snuffed out? Well, to me, as a Georgia fan who hates Tech with a passion otherwise reserved only for racists, the Dallas Cowboys, and Rush Limbaugh, yes, they are important enough. As for our team, though, I couldn't tell you what their feelings on the subject are at this point. And yeah, that worries me. A lot.

At least the sky on the drive home was pretty.

Happier times (but not really):

· If you needed any further indication of just how dramatically we're underperforming this season, consider that our best win probably came against the team that allowed this to happen. Not really a high-value sort of win, in other words. Yet the fact remains that LSU is probably still the fourth-best team in the conference, which leads to another unpleasant admission: The SEC just isn't that good this year. Probably the second-best league in D-IA, but well behind the Big 12, in terms of both the number of elite teams and the depth behind them.

· Pete Carroll, you owe me, buddy. Here I was, writing my weekly Dr. Saturday column, and my dead-solid lead-pipe cinch of the week was a revenge-minded Southern Cal covering twenty-two and a half on Stanford -- and after getting everything they could handle from the Cardinal through two and a half quarters, the Trojans finally turned it on enough to take a 28-point lead with less than 90 seconds to go. And then what happens? Stanford drives 56 yards in a minute twenty-three to score a meaningless touchdown on the final play of the game and earn a back-door cover, 45-23. A play which might not have been possible, mind you, had USC not called a time-out with three seconds left after Stanford completed a first-down pass to the Trojan 18. IT'S LIKE YOU WANTED THEM TO DO IT, PETE, AND I CAN ONLY TAKE SO MANY CARDIAC EVENTS IN A SINGLE WEEKEND GRRRR SERENITY NOW ARRRRGGHH

"I knew it was you, Urban. You broke my heart."

· On the other hand, while South Carolina killed my prediction of a Gamecock (+21) cover very early on -- seriously, guys, WTF with the throwback lateral on that kickoff return? It's only the Music City Miracle if it happens at the end of the game, and you win, and oh yeah, it takes place in Music City -- I was strangely received to see Florida continue to pour it on and really crush Carolina through the remaining three quarters. Not just because it was the biggest beatdown of Steve Spurrier's coaching career, but also because if you've recently gotten a 39-point beatdown from the Gators, it's kind of comforting when one of your rivals catches a 50-pointer. So thanks for that, Urban. I don't like you and you shouldn't like me, but it's nice to see that you're at least spreading the misery around.

· UAB Blazers watch: OMG THIRD WIN!!1!111!!1!! And with a game remaining against UCF to close out the season, we have a chance to both earn a fourth win and finish outside the basement in C-USA East. The very fact that I mentioned that, of course, means we're going to get killed 56-7 in both our remaining games, but hope springs eternal, right?

· Wofford Terriers watch: WU spanked Samford 28-7 in Birmingham on Saturday and are now 8-2, 6-1 in the Southern Conference. However, Appalachian State's HOT HOT HOT 24-16 win over Elon the same day clinched the SoCon title for the Mountaineers. We'll see whether the mighty Terriers can still snag a berth in the FCS playoffs.

· Cheerleader Curse watch: The curse actually split a pair of games this week -- Miami-Ohio, who hadn't played a game since RedHawk Jaclyn got the honors last week, got whacked on Tuesday by undefeated Ball State. Baylor, however, alma mater of Marisa (right, above), rolled up a 41-7 lead on sputtering Texas A&M before coasting to a 41-21 finish. All that said, I think the Cheerleader Curse is finally and officially dead for this season. Better (bad) luck next year.